Sometimes, even when someone appears to meet all the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder, assigning a psychiatric diagnosis is still not the right thing to do.
In the following excerpt from the forthcoming 5th edition of Clinical Interviewing, we offer an example of when and why psychiatric diagnosis is inappropriate (see: http://lp.wileypub.com/SommersFlanagan/). We refer to this as the “Three-Dimensional Universal Exclusion Criterion” which is our highly esoteric way of saying, “Whoa on psychiatric diagnosis until you’ve checked to see if there’s an alternative explanation for the observed behaviors!”
Multicultural Highlight 6.2
The Three-Dimensional Universal Exclusion Criterion: Is the Behavior Rationally or Culturally Justifiable or Caused by a Medical Condition?
Let’s say you meet with a client for an initial interview. During the interview the client describes an unusual belief (e.g., she believes she is possessed because someone has given her the “evil eye”). This belief is clearly dysfunctional or maladaptive because it has caused her to stop going out of her house due to fears that an evil spirit will overtake her and she will lose control in public. She also acknowledges substantial distress and her staying-at-home-and-being-anxious behavior is disturbing her family. In this case it appears you’ve got a solid diagnostic trifecta—her belief-behavior is (a) maladaptive, (b) distressing, and (c) disturbing to others. How could you conclude anything other than that she’s suffering from a psychiatric disorder?
This situation illustrates why diagnosis (see Chapter 10) is a fascinating part of mental health work. In fact, if the client has a rational justification for her belief-behavior . . . or if there’s a reasonable cultural explanation . . . or if the belief-behavior is caused by a medical condition—then it would be inappropriate to conclude that she has a mental disorder. One source of support for a universal exclusion criterion is the DSM-5. It includes the statement: “The level of severity and meaning of the distressing experiences should be assessed in relation to the norms of the individual’s cultural reference groups” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 750).
To explore our three-dimensional “universal” exclusion principle in greater depth, partner up with one or more classmates and discuss the following questions:
Can you think of any rational explanations for the client’s belief-behavior?
Can you think of any reasonable cultural explanations for the client’s belief-behavior?
Can you think of any underlying medical conditions that might explain her belief-behavior?
After you’ve finished discussing the preceding questions, see how many new examples you can think of where a client presents with symptoms that are (a) dysfunctional/maladaptive, (b) distressing, and (c) disturbing to others. Then discuss potential rational explanations, cultural explanations, and medical conditions that could produce the symptoms (e.g., you could even use something as simple as major depressive symptoms and explore how rational, cultural, or medical explanations might account for the symptoms, thereby causing you to defer the diagnosis.